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Friars beat back St. John’s storm, 79-74

Thursday, March 13, 2014

 

Living to play another day - that's something the Providence Friars have been doing for the past month. So it should come as little surprise they did that again Thursday afternoon.

Facing almost a must-win situation since a loss at Georgetown on February 10th, the Friars have managed to keep themselves in the post-season conversation by winning when they've needed to most.  In the Big East quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden in New York, the situation was the same against the St. John's Red Storm, and again PC responded with a thrilling 79-74 win to move into the semifinals Friday night against 8th seeded Seton Hall.

"That was a tournament game," head coach Ed Cooley said.  "I think we were very fortunate to win today.  I think we got lucky at the right time, but I'm really proud of our kids' effort.

"I'm excited to advance because that's what tournament play is all about," he added. 

And it almost didn't happen, after coughing up a big 2nd half lead.

Sophomore guard Josh Fortune, who scored a career high 24 points, knocked down a big three-pointer with 14:23 to play to give the Friars a stunning 13-point lead over the Red Storm, after leading by just three (36-33) at the half.  The lead was even more incredible considering PC's 1st team all-Big East guard Bryce Cotton had been held to just a single point in the first half, missing three free throws and found himself in foul trouble after picking up a 4th foul with 12:16 still to play. 

And yet, the Friars increased the lead to as much as 17 points (63-46) after a LaDontae Henton layup with 6:24 remaining.  With Cotton on the bench, in foul trouble. 

St. John's began storming back at that point, led by their 1st team all-Big East guard, D'Angelo Harrison.  Harrison (21 points, 10 rebounds), Big East all-rookie guard Rysheed Jordan (17 points) and forward Orlando Sanchez (8 points, 12 rebounds) all contributed key scores in a monster 22-6 run over the next 5:09, pulling within one after Harrison hit a free throw with 1:15 on the clock.  The Red Storm actually had a chance to take the lead on a Harrison drive to the basket with 39 seconds left, but the shot was blocked by Carson Desrosiers.

The game then turned into a free throw contest, and Providence has been the nation's top free throw team all season long.  Cotton iced matters by connecting on nine straight from the line in the second half - six in the final 31 seconds - with line help from Fortune and Desrosiers to finish St. John's off. 

St. John's managed a seven-point first half lead as Jordan and JaKarr Sampson (15 points, 9 rebounds) started off strong from the outside, but as the Friars' zone defense stayed consistent throughout, the misses began to add up as PC hit the backboards hard.  Henton hit a layup with 4:09 to go as the Friars grabbed the lead, and Batts hit a free throw with a minute left as PC scrapped for a three-point halftime advantage.  It was the defensive play, however, that paid off dividends down the line.

"Our zone was very good," Kadeem Batts added.  "We matched up well.  We communicated.  I felt like that gave them a lot of trouble."

And it helped give Providence the chance to play another day, one more time.

"When you play in this league and play on this stage, we're the best teams in the country when it comes to playing competitively night in and night out," Cooley said, "and that's why we're in the situation we're in."

Which is...to play on.  Until someone tells them they're through.

Friar Notes

Providence (21-11) wins for the first time in the Big East Tournament since 2009, snapping a five-game losing streak in the process.  The Friars had actually lost 10 of their last 11 at the Garden, dating back to 2003...PC will make its first appearance in the conference semifinals since 1997 as well, since losing to Villanova on their way to an Elite 8 finish in the NCAA Tournament...they will face 8th seeded Seton Hall, which stunned #1 Villanova on a buzzer-beater from Sterling Gibbs, 64-63.  Providence split two games with the Pirates during the regular season, losing 81-80 in double overtime on New Years' Eve at the Dunk, and winning 74-69 in Newark February 28th...there were five ties and 13 lead changes in Thursday's game, despite the close call at the end...Fortune's 24 points were a career best, surpassing the 18 he scored against Penn State during his freshman season...four Friars finished with 10 or more rebounds, including double-doubles from Henton (16 points,11 rebounds) and Batts (13 points, 12 boards).  Tyler Harris contributed 10 rebounds (six offensive) to go with six points, and Desrosiers scored eight points, pulled down 10 boards and blocked four shots...Cotton was held to 12 points on 1-10 shooting overall...second chance points were the difference (17-12 PC edge) thanks to 16 offensive rebounds and a 49-44 overall advantage on the boards...the 49 rebounds tied a season high, and were the most in a tournament game for Providence...PC's semifinal matchup Friday night with Seton Hall (6:45 pm on 103.7 FM and friars.com) will be the 2nd ever in the Big East semis against SHU, and first since 1993 (69-60 SHU win)...if you're wondering about NCAA possibilities for PC, there have been 109 Big East teams in the leagues' 34-year history with at least 20 wins, 10 in conference play, and at least one in the post-season tournament...and 106 of them advanced to the tournament...

 

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